DEA, ICE bust drug-trafficking organization

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said federal and local authorities have taken down a multimillion-dollar drug-trafficking organization and arrested 14 of 15 suspected members.

The organization has smuggled more than 19.1 kilograms of cocaine and 2,952 pounds of marijuana into the United States since December 2010 with a Tucson street value estimated to be more than $2 million, according to Horne's office.

Authorities allege that the criminal enterprise has been smuggling large amounts of marijuana and cocaine into the United States through the Nogales Port of Entry for more than 10 years.

“This organization controlled a pipeline of illicit drugs that threatened our communities and the welfare of our citizens," said DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman. "DEA and our partners are determined to find them, shut down their operations, and bring them to justice.”

The organization reportedly used backpackers, tractor-trailer dump trucks with scrap metal as cover, and vehicles with hidden compartments to smuggle the drugs, and smuggled large amounts of U.S. currency back into Mexico. 

Once in the United States, the marijuana and cocaine were stored at various Nogales, Rio Rico, Tucson and Phoenix-area stash houses, according to the Arizona attorney general's office. 

"This is yet another in a growing list of examples why the Arizona border with Mexico is not secure," Horne said. "For this criminal operation to exist for the better part of a decade trafficking millions of dollars worth of poison into Arizona is outrageous and helps to define the critical nature of this problem. The level of violent criminal activity near the border and throughout much of Arizona at large is a direct result of the drug trade, and it simply cannot continue."

Horne called upon the federal government to do more to address the crisis.

On Thursday, simultaneous search and arrest warrants were executed on suspected members of the organization and their stash houses. 

The 15 suspected members were indicted on charges including illegally conducting an enterprise, conspiracy, transportation of marijuana for sale, transportation of cocaine for sale, money laundering and weapons misconduct.

Agencies working in cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations Strike Force are the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Marshal's Service, Nogales Police Department, Tucson Police Department, Department of Public Safety, and the Arizona Attorney General's Office.